Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
on 6 January 2013
I have been meaning to read 'Scott and Amundsen' (The Last Place on Earth) for some time, and have finally got round to it. And I have to say, that despite all its innaccuracies, omissions and one-sided appraisal, I enjoyed it as a book. I found it well written and researched.
It is however written by a journalist and its writing style is more reminiscent of a popular newspaper, than even-handed research. However it should be remembered that it was first published in 1979. At that time, Robert Falcon Scott's achievement in reaching the South Pole in 1912 was still being viewed relatively uncritically. And Amundsen's achievement was relatively unheralded. Huntford was the first to seriously challenge the received wisdom of the Scott/Amundsen expeditions to the Pole. He clearly started with a view that Scott was an inept bungler and by contrast Amundsen was a supremely competent polar explorer, and he set about to put the record straight, as he saw it. In doing so, he went to great lengths to castigate Scott's planning, his methods and his character by means of selective assertions, at every opportunity. So much so, that I as a reader became irritated at the constant repetition. I was less concerned about his views on Amundsen, who I would agree was a great man whose multiple achievements have not always received the acclaim they richly deserve. But even there, Huntford deploys the journalistic style of conveniently omitting any evidence which runs counter to his central assertion. And he virtually invents some of Scott's motivations. And though Huntford certainly went to great lengths to research his material, I was somewhat disappointed that he omitted specific references to his sources.
Having read a large number of accounts by those who accompanied Scott - Cherry-Garrard, Evans, Wilson, Debenham, Simpson etc. I am forced to conclude that Huntford's view of Scott's character is extremely skewed. Despite his faults, Scott was clearly a much admired leader by many of his team. But Huntford does do us a service by raising key questions about Scott's methods. I have read Susan Solomon's appraisal of the relative climatic conditions in 1911/12 (The Coldest March), where she challenges Huntford's assertion that Scott did not encounter unpredictable cold conditions. I found her argument convincing. I have also read Sir Ranulph Fiennes defence of Scott (Captain Scott). And I too found a number of his points very convincing. But without wishing to take away from Scott a jot of what he achieved, especially in the new science which he championed, there remain some fundamental issues about his methods - especially his means of travel and his planning, and I am grateful to Huntford for at least initiating a debate.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the book. But it should be read in context. It makes some very valid points. But it also maligns a man, who clearly achieved more than any of us will ever achieve.